Turkish Cypriots cast doubt on reunification talks

Efforts to relaunch talks to end the half-century division of Cyprus appear doomed before they start after Turkish Cypriot authorities said they were only prepared to accept a two state solution.

Tahsin Ertugruloglu, foreign minister of breakaway northern Cyprus, told the Financial Times that attempts at reunification over decades had proved a “total failure”. Greek Cypriots and the international community must accept the “undeniable reality” of “two separate national entities, two separate states, two separate democracies, two separate peoples”, he insisted.

Cyprus has been split since 1974 when Turkey invaded the island’s north in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece. 

The Republic of Cyprus, the internationally recognised authority over the whole island, joined the EU in 2004. But the bloc cannot enforce its jurisdiction in the north, which only Turkey recognises as an independent state. Some 40,000 Turkish troops are still stationed north of the dividing line of control.

The UN has convened talks between the two sides at the end of April “to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution to the Cyprus problem within a foreseeable horizon”. The last round of UN-sponsored negotiations collapsed four years ago.

Northern Cyprus has taken an uncompromising line on possible reunification since Ersin Tatar, a staunch supporter of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was elected president last year.

Turkish Cyprus foreign minister Tahsin Ertugruloglu, right: “This new road we have embarked on is not something we have tried and tested” © Ramazan Turgut/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Ertugruloglu’s demand for formal partition will further strain EU ties with Turkey just as tensions have begun to ease. The relationship nosedived last year when Turkey sent gas exploration vessels into waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

Under Tatar’s predecessor Mustafa Akinci, northern Cyprus engaged in talks on reunification and federalisation. But negotiations collapsed in 2017 over Greek Cypriot demands for the removal of all Turkish troops from the island.

“This new road we have embarked on is not something we have tried and tested,” Ertugruloglu said of the two-state proposal. “It is a brand new path.”

He acknowledged that the Cyprus government was unlikely to accept talks aimed at a formal split. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has previously said he stands ready to resume peace talks, but both Nicosia and Athens have rejected the idea of a sovereign northern Cypriot state. They have called for an agreement in line with UN resolutions urging reunification of the island as a bizonal federation, based on 1977 and 1979 accords between the two sides.

“Do I expect them to genuinely try to turn a new page? No I do not,” Ertugruloglu said of the Cyprus government. “But just because they may not be interested in turning a new page does not mean that we are going to abandon where we stand and fall in line with what they do.”

Ertugruloglu said he did not see room for a compromise based on a federation of two zone and two communities. He insisted the Greek Cypriots were to blame for the collapse of constitutional arrangements put in place after independence from Britain in 1960.

He said he could imagine “two states co-operating in certain fields, perhaps preparing the ground for future generations to consider a confederation”. But he added that any confederation would have to be based on “two sovereign states”.

Ertugruloglu said there could not be co-operation on managing gas resources unless the north was first recognised as an independent state. And he urged the UN to be categorical about the scope for further negotiations after the talks planned in Geneva on April 27-29.

“We expect the United Nations to be honest and sincere and come out and openly say so at the end of this: is there common ground or not?” he said.

Ertugruloglu played down the prospect that Britain, a guarantor state of an independent Cyprus alongside Greece and Turkey, might play a significant role post-Brexit in brokering peace talks. Turkish Cypriot leader Tatar expressed hopes before his election last year that Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, might be able to play a mediating role in the Cyprus conflict. 

But Ertugruloglu said the UK “did not live up to its responsibilities” in the past. Its departure from the EU did not mean “it will have a free hand . . . to correct its mistakes” he added.

“The only country we have absolute confidence in is motherland Turkey,” he said.

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